Quick Takes: The Dead Zone, Rabid, The Brood

dead_zone_xlgThe Dead Zone (1983)
threestar

Starring Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurst, Martin Sheen, Nicholas Campbell, Sean Sullivan, Jackie Burroughs, Géza Kovács, Roberta Weiss
Directed by David Cronenberg

Having just finished reading the novel, this re-watch of The Dead Zone was definitely a different experience than when I first saw this many years ago. I was struck by how episodic the book is, without any overt attempts to drive home big themes or large-scale payoffs in the third act. It’s a completely different style of writing compared to anything King had published prior, more character-driven and “small” (especially considering it was King’s novel published directly after The Stand). The movie echoes this structure, except it cuts about half of the book and condenses the rest into a very potent, but still weird and not-so-fluid film. Christopher Walken is a perfect choice for King’s everyman Johnny Smith, and the rest of the cast is well chosen, too. I can’t say that Martin Sheen really represents the Greg Stillson that’s present in the novel, but they changed his character some so it’s not hard to roll with it. It is Martin Sheen after all. As a Cronenberg film, it’s missing his unique, almost avant-garde approach to horror, but his cerebral nature fits well with this specific King tale. Definitely recommended, although I think reading the book first will make the movie a richer experience, as you’ll be able to fill in the blanks caused by the shift in medium, as well as spot the subtle details throughout that recall specific moments or scenes of the book not given their full due in the film version.

Rabid POSTERRabid (1977)
AKA Rage
threehalfstar

Starring Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver, Howard Ryshpan, Patricia Gage, Susan Roman, Roger Periard, Lynne Deragon, Terry Schonblum, Victor Désy
Directed by David Cronenberg

Rabid, on the other hand, delivers a healthy dose of sick Cronenberg body horror. Rabid opens with a motorcycle accident near a plastic surgery center, and our heroine’s injuries are too much to sustain travel to a hospital more equipped to deal with her issues. No, she’ll have to go into emergency surgery, and since this place is on the cutting edge of plastic surgery, her burns are repaired via skin grafts of morphogenic skin (which can form itself into any type of body tissue, depending on where it’s grafted). Things go awry — oh, do they! — and while Rabid is definitely too abstract and low-budget for many viewers to get behind, I found it to be riveting entertainment. Marilyn Chambers may be known for her pornographic role in Beyond the Green Door, but her turn here as our skin-grafted lead is fantastic. She definitely could have had a fruitful horror career if the fates had aligned. Rabid also features FX work by Joe Blasco, and while there isn’t a ton of it, what’s here is incredibly effective. I’m being vague because it’s really better to just see Cronenberg and Blasco’s creations for yourself and revel in their fucked-up, “I’m never going to forget that” nature. Definitely seek this one out if you think you’ve seen everything a horror movie can deliver.

the-brood-posterThe Brood (1979)
AKA Chromosome 3

fourstar

Starring Art Hindle, Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Henry Beckman, Nuala Fitzgerald, Cindy Hinds, Susan Hogan, Gary McKeehan, Michael Magee, Robert A. Silverman
Directed by David Cronenberg

The Brood was Cronenberg’s horror follow-up to Rabid (the car movie Fast Company separates them), and it is a film of markedly better quality. Cronenberg’s signature cerebral tone takes center stage right from the opening moments, grabbing hold of your attention in a way that his previous films couldn’t quite manage. Where Shivers and Rabid feel like a good director finding himself in low-budget genre films, The Brood represents the dawn of a fully formed Cronenberg, ready to unleash the full range of his talents on an unsuspecting mainstream audience. The film is a very slow burn during its first half, though, and while it is always interesting I did find myself questioning if it should be classifies as a drama with horror elements instead of straight horror. It was right about at that point in the film when Cronenberg twisted the knife and the film never let up. It’s definitely a horror film! I’m sure some modern audiences would find the premise somewhat laughable or ridiculous, but I found it to be chilling and very psychologically engaging. I’ve slowly warmed up to Cronenberg over the last couple of years, but The Brood firmly cements my place as a big fan. I guarantee you’ve never seen a movie quite like this one!

Quick Takes: The Beyond, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Fright Night Part 2

beyondThe Beyond […E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà] (1981)
AKA Seven Doors of Death
twohalfstar

Starring Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint-John, Veronica Lazar, Anthony Flees, Giovanni De Nava
Directed by Lucio Fulci

I’m starting to think I’ll never completely warm up to Italian horror movies. They very rarely capture my attention fully, although when they’re good they are really good (like Suspiria). So I guess I’m trying to say that I’m gonna stick with ’em because I know — or at least hope — that there are gems to find. I definitely liked The Beyond more than City of the Living Dead, but it was still fairly uninteresting and slow for the most part. After hearing about this movie for years, it’s a little hard to understand that this is what all the hype was over. The gore, though, holy hell, so much to love there. I have to attribute the film’s reputation almost completely to the gore, because it’s pretty much worth seeing the movie just to see the nasty bits. Italian filmmakers definitely had a different approach to gore, and it often comes off as much more stomach-churning and revolting than in the films of their American counterparts.

invasionofthebodysnatchers1978Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
threehalfstar

Starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy, Art Hindle, Lelia Goldoni
Directed by Philip Kaufman

Fantastic remake that’s nearly as good as the original. I wish all remakes were like this, in that it felt sincere, artistic & in complete understanding of what made the original film so great. It’s a remake that diverges from the original plot in ways that perfectly update the film to the ’70s, while still retaining the pervasive ’50s paranoia of “the other” that made the original film pop. A lot of times remakes change things and people like me wonder why they had to change it. In this film it all clicks, in such good fashion that the film almost exists as a separate entity to the original film. In some ways you could even say that it’s a sequel to the ’50s film, and this ambiguity also helps the film succeed. The whole cast is exceptionally good, with the main four of Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright raising the movie to heights that genre films rarely reach. Sutherland is really becoming a favorite of mine, too, and for whatever reason he reminded me a lot of Clive Owen here (specifically Owen in The Knick).

frightnight2_posterFright Night Part 2 (1988)
threestar

Starring Roddy McDowall, William Ragsdale, Traci Lind, Julie Carmen, Jon Gries, Russell Clark, Brian Thompson, Merritt Butrick, Ernie Sabella, Matt Landers, Josh Richman, Karen Anders
Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace

The original Fright Night was about as fun as an ’80s vampire movie can get, so when I heard there was a sequel I was both jazzed and sure it was doomed to let me down. But no! Fright Night 2 is super fun and surprisingly solid. It builds its story on the same basic framework as the original, except they sometimes shift the genders of characters who filled the various roles originally. This gives Fright Night 2 a distinct feel that is its own, while also feeling very familiar and comfortable. To be more specific, this mostly manifests itself as Charley’s new girlfriend, Alex (Traci Lind), having a much more active role in the plot than Amanda Bearse did in the original. The vampires are multiple, too, and they’re all very different and fun. Fantastic FX work, too. There’s a body melting that’s just incredible! If you enjoyed the first one definitely seek out Fright Night 2!

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